DETROIT - Delphi Corp. has design studies under way with at least two automakers to use a new "driver protection module" that features a collapsible steering column, knee bolsters and pedals.
The Troy, Mich., supplier declined to name the prospective customers and would not give a price for the module.
Delphi said the unit does not take up any additional space in front of the driver. It is designed to reduce injuries in a front-end crash by simultaneously collapsing the components.
The system "can reduce injuries by 10 percent without pyrotechnics," said Rick Nash, Delphi chief engineer of steering columns.
Under development for 18 months, the module should be ready for production by 2009, Delphi engineers say.
Delphi wants to market the system to automakers as an easy way to improve crash test ratings.
"If this pushes a vehicle from good to best in class, that makes it attractive to a manufacturer," said Patrick Atkinson, director of orthopedic research at McLaren Regional Medical Center in Flint, Mich., and an associate professor specializing in crash safety at Kettering University, also in Flint. He is a consultant to Delphi.
Atkinson said injuries to lower extremities have been a largely overlooked area of automotive safety.
"Lower extremity injuries lead to a poorer quality of life," he said. That includes potentially higher rates of divorce and substance abuse, particularly if a crash victim is unable to walk.
Nash said the module would help dissipate collision force so airbags could be deployed with less force.
The driver protection module, which Delphi has patented, would help automakers meet future federal collision regulations.
Nash said bumper test speeds will increase from 30 mph to 35 mph by 2009.
Delphi claims the modular design will help manufacturers reduce assembly times as well.